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The OSU Extension Office is located at 505 N. Columbia River Highway in St. Helens and can be reached at 503-397-3462.
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What you do with the vegetable garden space that is done producing and is this a good time to make new beds for next year’s planting?I would first remove anything that in the garden that is diseased. Second, our soils need lime and lime takes about six months to fully react with the soil and make it less acidic, so fall is a great time to apply it. Add limestone to the vegetable garden at the rate of 10 pounds per 100 square feet and either rototill the soil and remaining plant debris or lightly turn it with a spading fork. This is enough to last four or five years. If the area you are liming hasn’t been watered recently, you may need to water it for several hours and then till the next day to make it an easier process.Then the big question: should you plant a fall through winter cover crop or not? Some gardeners prefer to cover the soil surface with leaves, compost, cornstalks or other types of organic matter alone or in combination. The mulch layer should be thick enough (3-4 inches) to slow weed growth. The mulch can also be covered with a tarp or black plastic for additional weed control and to lower the soil moisture saturation through winter. Small vegetable farmers have adopted winter tarping for weed control. It is a technique we use at the Master Gardeners demonstration garden at the fairgrounds and it has worked well for us.The advantage of the mulch and tarp system is that you can work the garden earlier next spring for early vegetables. One disadvantage is that you don’t have living plants and their roots active in the soil over winter. The other concern is that you may create a nice habitat for field mice (“voles”). They will tend to scatter when you remove the tarp and start actively planting the area. But that isn’t guaranteed.Cover crops have a long history in farming and gardening. In western Oregon, we traditionally use a combination of a winter grain (oats, wheat, or rye) in combination with some legumes (hairy vetch, Crimson clover, Austrian winter peas, etc.). Increasingly, farmers and gardeners are lowering or eliminating the grain and sticking with only legumes. The cover crop can be seeded anytime up to the end of October. A good stand will smother weeds. The cover crop root systems will open up the soil and the entire plant will capture soluble nitrogen that will release back into the garden next summer as it decomposes. Your early vegetable crops will need some additional nitrogen-containing fertilizer before the nitrogen from the cover crop is available.Cover crops can produce a lot of plant biomass. It is not uncommon to get stands of 3 feet tall or more by next May, especially if grains are part of the seed mix. This can be a challenge to work into the soil and it will take 3-4 weeks after the crop is tilled in for it to decompose enough for planting seeds. Some gardeners mow or weed whack the cover crop in late March and again in early May before tilling. This generally makes the process more manageable. Nevertheless, in a wet spring, the whole process can slow planting in comparison to the mulching technique. It is best suited to areas that will have hot season crops (corn, snap beans, squash, tomatoes, and peppers) planted in them. It is less useful for onions, potatoes, spinach, lettuce, peas, etc. that can go in earlier.I learned an interesting approach to cover crops from a friend. He plants spinach seed (which he has saved from his garden) and he reports that most of it grows and a significant portion survives most winters to produce a nice crop of spinach next spring. A farmer I know has seeded some of the more cold-hardy peas (Cascade is one variety) and often gets peas the next spring. Either spinach or peas should be seeded soon for best results.This is also the time to start new garden beds to plant into next spring. If the area is covered in grass, it has to be removed. You could rototill the grass. But unless you cover the new tilled bed with some cardboard and a thick 4-5 inch layer of mulch, and possibly black plastic as well, grass will return. You can do the same mulch layer without rototilling and get generally good results. Another option is to remove the sod and pile it in a corner to compost over the winter. Cover the area with compost or plant winter cover crops directly into it. The final option is to treat the sod with a non-residual herbicide and after the grass dies, cover the area with compost and/or possibly black plastic.Shrubs, small trees, and herbaceous perennials can be moved/transplanted into already prepared beds as it gets cooler and the deciduous species begin to lose their leaves.If you have any questions about making new beds or managing them over winter, contact me.Important notesThe OSU Extension Office is fully reopened. Wearing a mask inside is still required.Plant an extra for the food bank, senior centers, or community meals programs. Cash do-nations to buy food are also greatly appreciated.The Extension Service offers its programs and materials equally to all people.Have questions?If you have questions on any of these topics or other home garden and/or farm questions, please contact Chip Bubl, Oregon State University Extension office in St. Helens at 503-397-3462 or at [email protected] The office is open from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday.Free newsletterThe Oregon State University Extension office in Columbia County publishes a monthly newsletter on gardening and farming topics (called County Living) written/edited by yours truly. All you need to do is ask for it and it will be mailed or emailed to you. Call 503 397-3462 to be put on the list. Alternatively, you can find it on the web at extension.oregonstate.edu/columbia/ and click on newsletters.Many Extension publications available onlineAre you putting up salsa, saving seeds, or thinking about planting grapes? OSU has a large number of its publications available for free download. Just go to catalog.extension.oregonstate.edu. Click on publications and start exploring.Oregon State University Extension Service – Columbia County505 N. Columbia River Highway St. Helens, OR 97051503-397-3462
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